4 Corner Country to Zion National Park
Covering more than 46000 square kilometres of desert landscape the 4-corner region is scenic and has many parts ready to be explored.
This area known as the Navajo Nation is home to major attractions known worldwide, including Monument Valley, Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon, other points of interest are Horseshoe Bend, Valley of the Gods, Mexican Head. Enroute to Kayenta
the dramatic landscapes of the Colorado Plateau, and deeply red earth and impossibly blue skies, reminded us of the old western movies we used to watch when growing up.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is one of the most recognized landscapes in the USA and possible of the world. Marvel at Mother Nature’s handiwork, eroding massive rocks into interesting sculptures that reach heights of up to 350 meters. The angle of the sun gives these amazing formation change in colour during the day. Natural forces of wind and water that eroded the land spent the last 50 million years cutting into and peeling away at the surface of the plateau. The simple wearing down of altering layers of soft and hard rock slowly revealed the natural wonders of Monument Valley today.
Monument Valley in the Navaro language means valley of the rocks. This area is part of the Colorado Plateau characterized by a collection of crimson mesas and towering sandstone buttes that capture colours that appear only in nature. The valley is considered sacred by the Native American people who live in the reservation what is part of the Navajo Nation.
Monument Valley isn’t a “valley” in the true sense of the word, but a wide, arid, desolate plain with enormous red sandstone mesas, buttes, and spires dotted throughout.
Monument Valley has been photographed, painted by thousands, and has appeared in many Hollywood films. To name a few, Forest Gump, The Searchers, Once upon a time in the west, Stagecoach, and the Lone ranger.
Forest Gump Point
On our way to Mexican Head a must do stop is at Forest Gump Point, from here looking back a long straight road that runs back towards Monument Valley. This gives the real image of the far west.
Many travellers on daily tight schedules miss this spot as it is not part of the standard trip and route.
Mexican Hat is a small village (population about 40) around 50 Kilometres north of Monument Valley. The village is named after the curiously sombrero shaped rock outcropping just out of town. The rock measures 18 meters wide and just under 4 meters long. Our campsite along the river had a great view of the rock and we enjoyed our 3 days stay at the valley overlooking Mexican Head.
After a few days at Mexican Head, we continued to the Valley of the Gods. Also known as a Miniature Monument Valley. The beautiful Cedar Mesa sandstone monoliths, pinnacles and other geological features of this scenic area are eroded by wind and water over millions of years.
The Valley of the Gods
The roads through the Valley of the Gods are a mix of gravel, clay, washouts, and sharp turns but nothing difficult. It provides a fun drive through an area that is usually deserted. It is a great place to get away from civilization – to get away from everything associated with modern life. it is a hidden gem.
Despite it being just 50 kilometres away from Monument Valley it is not visited by many, it offers great bush camping, and the Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide-open spaces that seem to go on forever. Permits are not required and there are no fees to drive the Valley of the Gods unlike Monument Valley.
Because of its isolated nature you need to be self-sufficient There are no facilities. The western end of the Valley of the Gods Road connects with Hwy 261 what is known as the Moki Dugway a section of very tight switchbacks that allow Hwy 261 to climb the cliff face to the top of Cedar Mesa.
After leaving Valley of the Gods our plan was to visit Antilope Canyon. We were told Antilope is visited by thousands of people every day. Only way to visit is by guided tour. The canyon is located around the town of Page. Antelope is the most visited slot canyon, partly because it is easily accessible and by far the most publicized, and it is extremely beautiful, with just the right combination of depth, width, length, rock colour and ambient light. Most slot canyons are deeper.
As it worked out the weather was poor, windy and overcast. Hence, we decided to give the canyon a miss. Current prices for the short tour are 100USD, but we were told the fees will increase as the Navajo continue to exploit the ever-growing popularity of the canyon.
Arriving in Page our first stop was the Walmart to stock up. Walmart is always a good place to stop overnight once it is getting late in the day. Page is a great destination when you enjoy and appreciate natural beauty. For many it is the start of the Grand Circle a cluster of over a dozen national parks in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. They are near each other. For us this was an amazing part of the world. And more to come such as Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante, Capitol Reef, Grand Canyon, are all part of the Grand Circle.
Horseshoe Bend National Park
The following morning our first stop was Horseshoe Bend National Park. This park attracts over 2 million visitors every year. Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped bend in the Colorado River that offers breathtaking views from a 350-meter-high cliff. Horseshoe Bend itself, and that part of the Colorado River, are a part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Located just North of the East Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon National Recreation area covers 5,076.49 square kilometres of mostly rugged high desert terrain. The area is named for Glen Canyon, which was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam. Completed in 1966 and is now mostly submerged beneath the waters of Lake Powell. The Recreation area has borders with Capital Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and the Grand Canyon National Park. The main reason this recreation area has been developed is to have access to Lake Powell.
Glen Canyon Dam
The Glen Canyon Dam is an impressive engineering feat that created Lake Powell. Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam. Upon completion of Glen Canyon Dam on September 13, 1963, the Colorado River began to back up, no longer being diverted through the tunnels. The newly flooded Glen Canyon formed Lake Powell. Sixteen years it took before the lake filled to the 1,100 m level in June 1980. The lake level fluctuates considerably depending on the seasonal snow runoff from the Rocky Mountains.
Lake Powel is one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States. The lake is surrounded by stunning red rock formations. Lake Powel has nearly 3,200 km of fish-holding shoreline. Lake Powell is in northern Arizona and stretches up into southern Utah. It is also part of the Colorado River
It is the second largest artificial reservoir by maximum water capacity in the United States.
Water levels at Lake Powell hit a historic low due to drought in 2021. April 2022 Lake Powel was just 22% of capacity and this was the lowest water level since 1963, forcing some marinas and other area services to limit or suspend all activities.
Lake Powel is the second largest artificial reservoir by maximum water capacity in the United States behind Lake Mead. Lake Powell was created by the Glen Canyon Dam and the flooding of Glen Canyon.
After 2 days camping at an amazing lookout just a few kilometres out of Page we continued to our next stop Zion National Park.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
It has been 26 years ago since we visited Zion National Park last. People call Zion National Park heaven on earth, a red-rock wonderland created by wind, water, and snow. Mormon pioneers arriving in the area in the 1860s were so overwhelmed by the natural beauty of Zion Canyon and its surroundings that they named it after the Old Testament name for the city of Jerusalem.
Zion National Park is in the Southwest of Utah. We camped on day 1, a few kilometres before the East Entrance of the park, and Day 2 on the South Side around 10 kilometres away from the park and the village of Springdale.
The East side is where we entered the park, which passes through the Zion–Mount Carmel Tunnel which was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common. This tunnel requires a special permit. As we are classed as oversized, we had to Pay 15 USD for 2 tunnel passes valid for 7 days. The rangers stopped oncoming traffic so that we could drive down the centre of the tunnel having 100 mm to spare from the roof.
The highlight of the park is Zion Canyon 24 kilometres long and up to 800 meters deep. The canyon walls are reddish, and orange coloured also called Navajo Sandstone.
The road into the Canyon is 10 kilometres but not open for private vehicles between April and the end of October. During this time the only access is by free shuttle bus. All other roads in Zion are open to private vehicles year-round. It was nice but the thousands of people in the gorge made it less spectacular for us. Driving by shuttle is not something we enjoy.
Zion National Park really revolves around the Zion Canyon, as it includes most of the highlights of the park. Including Angels Landing (famous world-wide but we did not walk the trial) The great white throne, The West Temple, and the Court of the Patriarchs.
The old riverside village of Springdale on the southside of the park is the park’s primary gateway. The main road in the village is the main tourist strip full of hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and shops.
The northern part of the park is known as the Kolob Canyons section and is accessible only from Highway 15. Kolob Canyons is even smaller than Zion Canyon but we are told if you enjoy hiking this is another place to go. Due to the large amounts of traffic and, tourist busses we gave that a miss.
On our second day when we entered Zion from the south side, we arrived at 9AM and more than 1 kilometres of traffic (Day trippers from Las Vegas) were already lining up to get into the park. This is also the reason that as of early 2000 the 10km road into the Canyon was closed for traffic during the months of June till October and a public transportation system using propane-powered shuttle buses was implemented.
Till next time when we travel to the Bonneville Racecource on the Utah and Nevada border via Arches National park, a few other National parks and Salt Lake city.
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